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‘Historic underway’ of USS Ford now includes 1st time operating alongside Nimitz-class carrier

The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford returns from sea and heads to Naval Station Norfolk on October 30, 2019. (Jonathon Gruenke / Daily Press/TNS)

The next generation of aircraft carrier sailed alongside the old this week, making naval history.

The U.S. ships Gerald R. Ford and Harry S. Truman, both based in Norfolk, conducted dual carrier operations in the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday. It was the first time carriers of the Ford and Nimitz classes, respectively, have operated together, according to U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

The Ford got underway from Naval Station Norfolk last week for its latest round of carrier qualifications. The Truman Carrier Strike Group, which had been deployed and was scheduled to return home this spring, has been kept at sea since April waiting out the coronavirus pandemic.

The two carriers were not scheduled to exchange aircraft but instead to work mainly on command and control exercises, like testing electronic communication links.

“The links that are required to have a carrier strike group operate are extensive. And as the ship comes to life, we’re energizing those links and grooming them,” Capt. J.J. Cummings, the Ford’s commanding officer, said on a press call earlier this week. “So as we’re out here we’re looking to get every chance you can to exercise that. … Any opportunity we can to get with Truman and test those out, we’re going to do just that.”

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There are 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, named for World War II admiral Chester Nimitz. The first and oldest, the USS Nimitz, was commissioned in 1975. The Ford, which was commissioned in 2017, is the first of its class, set to be followed by the John F. Kennedy, which is being built at Newport News Shipbuilding.

The joint operations with the Truman are not the only important recent marker in what Cummings called a “historic underway” for the Ford.

The ship also embarked the largest air wing to date of about 1,000 sailors and has been able to get in 167 “trap” landings in a single day, he said. Both galleys are also operating for the first time, which Cummings said has boosted morale.

“I know it may seem like not a big deal to the folks out there in civilian life, but for sailors it’s a big deal,” he added.

And the Ford took on 40,000 pounds of inert ordnance, using newly finished weapons elevators in recent days to get the bombs to the air wing for training missions.

“It’s been very fun to watch,” Cummings said.

He also emphasized that there are no cases of COVID-19 on board. Shortly before getting underway, more than 100 members of the Fighting Blacklions squadron, which is based out of Naval Air Station Oceana and flies F/A-18F Super Hornets, were pulled off the ship as a precaution. One sailor had tested positive after contact with squadron members, though the sailor was never on board the ship.

“We are completely healthy,” Cummings said of the ship’s crew. “Not even a single fever.”

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© 2020 The Virginian-Pilot